In 2017 and 2019 respectively, Tacoma Musical Playhouse and Tacoma Little Theatre each sent a one-hour abridgement of one of its productions to compete against other troupes from the American Association of Community Theatre. Both shows reached the national finals. (Full disclosure: This writer performed in the latter, TLT’s The Pillowman.) Now TLT will host a preliminary round of this year’s “AACTFest” competition, which means five companies will duke it out in hopes of progressing to the regional contest. Perhaps the clearest winners, however, will be area theatergoers.
That is because this first-round tournament, dubbed “Kaleidoscope 2023,” will present entries from across Washington state over a single, mid-February weekend. Attendees can pay as little as $6 — to see one show Saturday afternoon — or $30 for all five. Kaleidoscope begins Friday evening, Feb. 10, continues with a Saturday matinée and concludes that Saturday evening. Trained adjudicators will select one play to move on to regionals; that decision will be announced at an awards brunch in the La Quinta Inn & Suites Tacoma’s Cedar Room (1425 E. 27th St.) Sunday morning. That ceremony is also open to the public for a separate $20 admission fee.
Not only did these productions commit to the pressure of competition, they must use sets that can be transported to TLT, then reassembled in less than 10 minutes in full view of the audience. The companies and shows competing in Tacoma are, in chronological order, Theatre33 (Bellevue) with “Mind Games,” Jewel Box Theatre (Poulsbo) with “Skin Deep,” Stage West Community Theatre (Ocean Shores) with “12 Incompetent Jurors,” Bellingham Theatre Guild with “When Jack Met Jill.” and Stage Left Theater (Spokane) with “Pass Over”.
In addition to serving as TLT’s managing artistic director, Chris Serface is the national president of AACT. This year marks a return to that organization’s biennial tournaments after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Serface is excited to see the event returning to its full glory after 2021, when a severely reduced number of companies competed using video submissions. TLT elected not to field a show in 2023, but Serface is already looking ahead to material for the 2025 competition. Tacoma Little Theatre will host an “Afterglow Celebration,” at which theatergoers can hobnob with competing actors, designers and directors, after the Friday bloc.
Although each of the five shows presented in Kaleidoscope must be cut to an hour, AACTFest cuttings are usually presented as self-contained stories. Therefore, audiences in Tacoma will be treated to accelerated “highlight reels” of the full-length plays, all for a dollar more than a single musical theater ticket.
So what are these shows about? “Mind Games by Paul Elliott is an existential thriller set in a Beverly Hills psychiatrist’s office. Jon Lonoff’s “Skin Deep” is a comedy that pairs two middle-aged eccentrics on a blind first date. A parody of a popular courtroom drama, Ian McWethy’s “12 Incompetent Jurors” decides the fate of a man accused of literal cat burglary. “When Jack Met Jill” by Adam Szymkowicz is a tragicomic, postmodern retelling of a classic nursery rhyme. Antoinette Nwandu wrote “Pass Over” as a Black American take on Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Each of these five hour-long plays will be presented in TLT’s newly remodeled proscenium theater, then struck in less than 10 minutes to clear space for the next competing production. Audiences, like the actors themselves, have barely a moment to catch their breath before adjudicators’ stopwatches start ticking all over again.
Kaleidoscope 2023 is a whirlwind program of diverse entertainment, seasoned with the excitement and intensity of friendly competition. And, given Washington troupes’ success in the 2010s, no one should be surprised if one of these troupes makes it all the way to the national finals at Louisville’s Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in mid-June.
7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10;
2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11;
awards banquet 10 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 12
Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
Photo credits: each courtesy of its respective theater company